Finnish tales #1

I am often the chosen one. Let me explain more fully. I am often approached by persons unknown who want to take my photograph because I dress in my own individual style. I call it ‘Sultana Style’ but even when I am not dressed up, I seem to attract attention perhaps because my ‘trademark’ is my turban!

How could I know that having an informal spontaneous photograph taken in historic Rhodes Old Town would open the door to Finland, a country and culture I knew absolutely nothing about?

I had, in fact, visited Helsinki briefly on a Baltic cruise coming from St Petersburg in Russia a decade earlier. All I could recall was the renowned church built into a rock, a craft market by the harbour with eccentric shaped felt hats and tasting a delicious salt liquorish liquor in a covered market hall by the sea, it’s unique taste still lingering! So Helsinki was nowhere on my bucket list! Never to return so I thought........

I was in Rhodes last May to meet my Flemish gay friend Willy who lives in Rethymno, Crete. We meet annually in Rhodes Old Town to travel to another nearby Greek island, thus I arrived a few days earlier to stay at the enchanting Marco Polo Hotel in the old Turkish quarter.

Alone at night in the enchanting historic medieval city, I was approached by an ordinary pleasant middle-aged man who wanted to take my picture. Nothing new there as I am often stopped by keen amateur street photographers or photography students working on street projects. When I asked why, he said his ‘wife’ wanted my photograph because she liked my style. Naturally I agreed, posing by a convenient fountain in the main cobbled street.

The stranger was from Finland but his English was not so good, however, he asked if I would like to meet his ‘wife’. Of course I would be delighted. I had once bee. A member of a Finnish poetry group in Chania, Crete led by a Finnish actor living in Crete. The only time I was to meet Finns.

Leading me over to his table, I met the charming, beautifully dressed and very attractive Galina from Siberia. We immediately clicked and I ended up, after a delightful evening in her company in the garden of my hotel, listening as to how she had defected from Siberian Russia to Finland decades earlier. I was thus invited to stay with her the following spring in her adopted city of Porvoo.

People say things in the moment and later forget their spontaneous invitation but Galina was sincere and true to her word. We kept in touch over the coming year on Facebook and WhatsApp and the following May I found myself flying to meet her at Helsinki airport. I interviewed her for my YouTube channel in my series ‘Jilliana in Finland’ and stayed at her guest house in medieval 800 year old Porvoo, the second oldest city in Finland. I stayed for 4 nights, meeting her ex-partner who cooked a delicious dinner of reindeer minced meat and creamy mashed potato garnished with pomegranate seeds, the father of her two lovely talented children and, let us not forget, her beloved Jack Russell Tino, the faithful and demanding boisterous love of her life!

Galina was a delight to spend time with. We ate off her fine china hand painted delicate Russian plates and drank tea from decorative Russian teacups. The tea tasted better in Russian porcelain! She enthusiastically showed me the quaint ancient city of Porvoo that had given her refuge, proudly showing me Brumberg’s chocolate and liquorice factory where we gorged ourselves with abundant tempting samples on offer.

I revelled in the secondhand clothes shops, private and governmental. We both hunted for the famous Finnish brand, Jackie O’s favourite label, Marimekko in the 1960s with its recognisable bold colourful fabric designs. Some shops were well laid out, each private seller having a clothes rail with good quality accessories such as ‘Bohemia‘ contrasting with abandoned bric-a-brac ‘rubbish’ in square well-ordered numbered cubbyholes in ‘lanes’. Never before had I seen that efficient system before. Fascinating! Prices began at a mere E1 up to say E25 with vintage Marimekko priced at a bit more at E30.

I experienced retail therapy contrasted with tranquil rural life at Galina’s lovely traditional family home filled with photographs and paintings of her ex-partner’s aunt who had been a famous actress called Sylvi Salonen. I was invited to take a sauna with Galina, a normal way of life in a Finish home. I even visited the local Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday morning, the centre of her life, apart from fashion and textiles, that is.

Galina created felt wool accessories sporting her own label, designing and making beautiful layered ‘structural’ clothes which she sold to a high end boutique in Stockholm as well as on Instagram and PinInterest.

From Porvoo I went on to Finland’s capital Helsinki for more adventures, receiving yet another invitation, through Happenstance, to return next August to my former collectibles dealer life in the Helsinki flea market.

In life one must open new unlocked doors passing through into the unknown challenging world beyond. Carpe Diem!

Written at home in Brighton reminiscing. July 2019.

References

Google - Marimekko fabric
Wikipedia - Marimekko
Summertown Porvoo - VisitFinland.com
YouTube - Jilliana in Finland with Galina Gorevaja #1-4
YouTube - Jilliana in Finland at Cafe Helmi, Porvoo
YouTube - Jilliana in Finland having reindeer stew
YouTube - Jilliana in Finland in Porvoo in ‘Bohemia’ shop.
Galina Gorevaja on Instagram @galaise
GalinaGorevaja on Pininterest
Google - Sylvi Salonen